Blog archive November 2014

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11.11.14 / 01 / a community of practice

just looking at jim barker's chapter in 'the pioneer gift'. he's talking about the idea of 'communities of practice', as defined by jean lave and etienne wenger in the 90s:

communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.

wenger's list of indicators that a community of practice has formed:

  • sustained mutual relationships - harmonious or conflictual
  • shared ways of engaging in doing things together
  • a rapid flow of information and propagation of innovation
  • an absence of introductory preambles, as if ocnversations and interactions were merely the continuation of an ongoing process
  • very quick setup of a problem to be discussed
  • substantial overlap in participants' descriptions of who belongs
  • knowing what others know, what they can do, and how they can contribute to an enterprise
  • mutually defining identities
  • the ability to assess the appropriateness of actions and products
  • specific tools, representations and other artefacts
  • local lore, shared stories, inside jokes, knowing laughter, jargon and shortcuts to communication as well as the ease of producing new ones
  • certain styles recognised as displaying membership
  • a shared discourse reflecting a certain perspective on the world

(from 'communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity', etienne wenger, 1998)

barker says:

wenger proposes that learning, as a social process, occurs in the junction between four points: community (learning as belonging), meaning (learning as experience), identity (learning as becoming) and practice (learning as doing).
he goes on to argue that learning through participation occurs in the tension between these points, the individual identity 'against' the community, the experience of doing 'against' the collective meaning fo the doing.  of course there is no 'against' here, rather it is more accurate to say that learning happens within a thorough and tenacious negotiation between the points.

it strikes me that Grace is a community of practice, and that this is how we do our learning. having just had a couple of conversations which tried to explain how newcomers learn / are shaped as christians in the context of an informal group like Grace, this is a useful piece of theory.

02.11.14 / 03 / shadow cv

i'm wrestling again with how to describe my 'shadow cv', all this other stuff i do, in ways that make sense when added to my 'work' cv. the two really need to be seen together, in my professional environment, to broaden out my opportunities, to indicate the kinds of things i might do.

but it seems to vanish like smoke whenever i try to grasp it. all these small pieces loosely joined, this cloud of words and pictures and events, elude simple description. career paths are amazingly narrow, when it comes to it. there was a defined course, a recognised qualification, you did this and this and this in gradual progression. so now we can pay you to do the next thing, because we trust you.

and yet i've spent the last 15 years doing stuff i have no qualifications or formal education in, to greater real impact than any of the things i am formally qualified to do and paid for. yesterday i was talking to 25 danish theological students about Grace, unqualified unordained me, and we were laughing about this.

it strikes me that the cloud nature of my amateur activities is at odds with the linear nature of a professional cv. there's a structural conflict in reducing the former into a list format. list orderings and discrete headings don't make sense. each part, taken alone, is too small. everything looks trivial when separated, which is disheartening. and the subject matter of most of these endeavours has been the christian church, which adds another layer of incomprehensibility and apparent irrelevance.

what i think my shadow cv demonstrates, in employment terms, is an ability to make connections and cross disciplinary boundaries. my 'normal' cv demonstrates brick on brick accumulation, one thing on top of another. right now i'm looking for a space where the latter does not crush the former into a corner.

02.11.14 / 02 / career paths

one of the books i bought in foyles was a monograph on ken garland. as often i find myself wondering why i didn't do graphic design instead of architecture. no doubt the blinkers were mostly self-imposed - i was obsessed with architecture from the age of 12, designed buildings every night, read all the architecture books in the library. but i also don't remember graphic design as a very visible career option, in a small town in mid-1970s england. it would perhaps have been filed under 'printing', or something.

at that time career paths with academic substance (which is where i was at) were the traditional professions (of which architecture was one), or management in industry - private sector or state-owned. i think at that time about 50% of the british economy was state-owned. the financial sector, in the modern sense, hadn't happened. neither had graphic design, in the sense of branding and communications design. it's all-pervasive now, we're all designers of our own identities and players with fonts and photos. but that's part of the cultural shift of the 1980s away from making things into selling things, from products to appearances.

so i was maybe 10 years too old to have taken that path - before peter saville and factory records and the face had made young people think about typography and image as cultural weapons, as something with history and meaning that you could spend a lifetime on.

02.11.14 / 01 / in foyles

i went to foyles in charing cross road yesterday, to find that they have moved into a new store just down from the old one. the former premises were notoriously confusing, a labyrinth of rooms and changes of level and back stairs - not entirely a bad thing in a book shop where serendipitous discovery is part of the process, but maddening if you needed to find one particular thing in a hurry when, say, christmas shopping.

the new place, however, is a delight. it is arranged on half-levels around a small central atrium - this retains the experience of small flights of steps and changes of direction so characteristic of the old store, while being clear and simple. the views across the atrium display activity and tempt you up and down. to stop the thing being too obvious there is some added complexity of spaces and levels in the children's area at the back. the cafe is at the top, with exhibition and event space. the whole thing is in the currently fashionable loft-space idiom, light timbers and white walls and exposed ceiling services, dark timber and metal in the cafe.

the designers, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, have done a great job in retaining the essence of foyles while sorting out the problems. in an age when the bookshop is a dying species this is an example of how it can be renewed and hopefully thrive. my only complaint is that the design books are next to the lifts, such that people kept pushing past me while i was browsing.

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